Monday, November 30, 2015


"What to do with the Columbia Medical Plan campus?" muses Bill Woodcock over at The 53. If you are not familiar with the location, it's more or less at the corner of Thunder Hill Road and Route 175, across from the Walgreen's. From Wikipedia:

The Columbia Medical Plan was founded in 1967 as a health maintenance organization (HMO) available to citizens of Columbia. In more recent years, however, this plan has divided into separate medical groups that simply share the Twin Knolls buildings.

Bill suggests a more mixed-use approach over there. I was interested to read his ideas. I love brainstorming and I think Columbia can benefit from fresh ideas. Through the years I have suggested a variety of suggestions (some more serious than others) for local sites, including turning Wilde Lake Village Center into a haven for children's birthday parties, or, a living history museum of Columbia's earliest years. I've imagined buying the Patuxent Publishing building and turning it into a private home with the help of HGTV/Extreme Home experts. Most recently I've envisioned the space above Clyde's (formerly housing CA) as an event venue where local high schools could hold their proms.

So I am completely on board with brainstorming. It's fun, and a great way to generate even more ideas than the one you started with.But I'm not okay with how Bill sees this playing out.

It starts out well.

Am I saying, let's explore building more housing there? No, course not! What I'm proposing are generally, more day-based activities, though some activities could go on until 9, 10, or possibly later. I'm proposing, just as an individual, not officially in any way, that the County and whatever other powers that be exist, consider moving the Oakland Mills Village Center merchants to the Columbia Medical Plan property.

Okay, move the Village Center merchants out of the Village Center. Combine them with the Columbia Medical Plan campus. How would that work?

The reasons why to do this are plain. First, the location provides the opportunity for much more traffic to go by, and therefore, to stop in. Second, I'm only talking about moving the merchants at the current village center, from Second Chance through Food Lion. That footprint would definitely fit. Third, what moving those properties would do, would be to allow for the expansion of the Columbia Ice Rink to become the multi-sports facility that some in the community envision. Four, it could allow for the opportunity for other business to be built adjacent to the sports facility, or for that matter, housing. And fifth, doing this would not cause one single person to be displaced who currently lives in Oakland Mills.

Wait just a darn minute. Why are we still discussing displacing residents? Are we not finished with acting as though displacing Oakland Mills residents is okay because they are renters, or poor, or not the right color or nationality? Are there enough people in Village leadership who think it's okay to get rid of citizens of Oakland Mills because they are living on desirable property or because they don't add to those people's view of what their Columbia looks like?

There must be, because Mr. Woodcock eyes this plan as a way to assuage them. And that just boggles my mind. He goes on,

On the other hand, the one drawback I see is that the village center merchants would be displaced from the village's densest housing, but then again, it could be accessible by HC Transit.

I agree. That's a drawback. Moving the Food Lion away from the people who are most likely to walk there is a drawback, all right. And I'm not convinced that saying it's served by public transit is a good enough solution. We'd be taking the people who are the poorest, and most vulnerable, and making life a whole level more expensive and inconvenient for them.

I don't think we should be crafting solutions in our communities that adversely affect others in a way that we, ourselves, would not wish to be inconvenienced.

I don't fault Bill one bit for brainstorming. He's a smart guy, and he's been right at the center of what's going on in Oakland Mills for years. The idea that the Columbia Medical Plan campus could be more than it is now is absolutely sound. And mixed use is definitely an interesting suggestion, although most businesses these days don't fancy the Columbia style of being off the main road behind a lot of bushes. The joy of discovery does not work for them. The want in-your-face visibility.

As for me, I have thought that the Columbia Medical Plan space would be a great place to put a Howard County Kennedy Krieger campus. They do have a couple of locations here, but what if we could have all of the services they offer, soup-to-nuts, in one place? Across from a pharmacy, easily accessible to Route 29, or 175 to 95. Down the street from our Village Center merchants. Connected by pathways to Tot Lots. Minutes away from the Mall.

Wow. You know, Oakland Mills is just ideally located for almost anything, if you really think about it. And I don't have to be in complete agreement with Bill to give him credit for being willing to think outside the box.

What do you think?







Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fair Weather Friends

Rain, rain go away.

Come again some other day

to wash pollution in the Bay.

rain, rain go away.


What a dreary day. We're either recovering from over-eating or over-shopping plus dreading going back to work or school. And, what's worse, it's raining.

The issue of Howard County's storm water fee and how we will meet our obligation to care for the Chesapeake Bay was back in the news this week. County Executive Alan Kittleman, working with the lone man on his home team, Councilman Greg Fox, is proposing to end the fee and pay for the County's obligation some other way. (Not a direct quote, but close enough for jazz.)

I haven't written about this in the past because it's a complex issue and all the noise seemed to me to be about "It's a rain tax" vs "No it isn't". But something here makes my scratch my head. There's only a finite amount of money in the budget. And that comes from our tax money, yes? Mr. Kittleman says,

I felt then, as I still do now, that creating another tax or fee was unnecessary, excessive and a burden on working families and small businesses...

So, he doesn't want to add an additional tax or fee. Which means he feels we already have enough money to pay for these projects in the budget. Really?

I didn't know that we were exactly rolling in it right now in Howard County. It seems as though it's been all gloom and doom and cutting back since Mr. Kittleman took office. I sat through a budget request hearing where representatives from non-profits that provide a crucial network of services for our most vulnerable citizens were (basically) begging to get back at least some of the funds that had been cut by this administration.

It stands to reason that if Mr. Kittleman is going to pay for our stormwater obligations out of the monies we have already, that something(s) else will have to be cut. And then, if that thing (or things) is really important, the citizens of Howard County will either: suffer without, or have to find a way to fund it/them.

Wouldn't that be an additional fee or tax?

Changing the way this looks is great for Mr. Kittleman and those in his party who are strongly opposed to it. And if he can make it work through prudent financial stewardship, more power to him. Perhaps he'll need to go out like Councilman Weinstein to round up sponsorship from the private sector. I don't know.

But from where I sit this still looks like smoke and mirrors. What is it that the old Magic Eight Ball used to say? "Reply hazy. Try again." So I'll keep an eye on this. An announcement is, of course, just the beginning of the process.

In the meantime, let's not forget the whole point of this, which is far bigger than the whims or politics of Howard County.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Turkey Talk and More

To be filed under fun, but not an essential read, this piece in the Sun about Maple Lawn turkeys. If you don't pay for the digital subscription you may already be out of your free reads for the month. So I'll give you a little tidbit.

"We had a man call and say, 'I'm in trouble with my wife and need a turkey.' We ask what happened. He says, 'Well I took it home and put it in the washing machine in ice to keep it cold. And she ran a load of laundry.' So he needed a new turkey."

And not a new washing machine? Or a new wife?

I'm taking my daughter to see "Guys and Dolls" and the Olney Theatre Center this afternoon. Steve Charing's review is definitely encouraging. It's a long and winding road to Olney, though. I've enjoyed every show I've seen there, but I find myself wishing there were a better way to get there. Suggestions? Is there a "quick" way to Olney?

Finally, a little hyperlocal human interest story. I stopped by the Oakland Mills Food Lion on the night before Thanksgiving. As you might imagine, there were plenty of folks there. And it was one of those truly awesome Oakland Mills experiences where all different kinds of people were shopping, everyone was polite and generally pleasant. The staff was helpful. I even saw my County Councilman Calvin Ball and got a Thanksgiving hug.

As I was checking out, I saw a bunch of teen males clumped up together by the door, guarding at least three carts filled with food, bagged up and paid for. Waiting for a ride, maybe. They were laughing and joking, not rowdy, though. It was sweet. I felt like there was a story in it. I was, of course, too polite to go ask them why they were there.

So many people look at a group of teen males and are quick to think "hooligans", especially if those teens are non-white. And that's sad. These kids are our kids. All of them. Whether white or tan or brown, whether from a single family home or affordable housing--if they succeed we are all succeeding.

And on the eve of Thanksgiving it was good to see them smile.




Friday, November 27, 2015

Not the Usual

Tom Bodett posted this poem to his followers last night on Twitter.
I like it. It makes its point in a gentle way. It nudges, rather than rants. And yet, as I read and re-read it, something by bothered me. So I wrote a companion piece.


Perhaps if there were women

It might be so. Perhaps the female

humans will burst forth, finally be seen -

partners triumphant when men alone might fail.

Sometimes men just forget that women are -

exist, succeed, live, work, and win.

They leave them out, the story wanders far.

But without women we cannot yet begin.

Perhaps the year ahead will bend toward love

and hate and fear will lose their tempting hue.

But not without both men's and women's equal work

and worth. May it at last come true.

Yesterday was the first Thanksgiving in which I was painfully convicted of the greater truth: that the celebration of one history, one culture, one abundance, is predicated upon the painful silencing of thousands upon thousands of native voices. So when I read Sheenagh Pugh's poem I was more attuned to the voices who were left out.

Leaving out other voices to tell the story is never going to be honorable or honest. I think that's the lesson I'm taking away from Thanksgiving this year.



Thursday, November 26, 2015

Taking Stock

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Community
  • Music and the Arts
  • Writing

I'm thankful. There's my list. It's my "right off the top of my head" list of things I'm thankful for. But there's another list. It's almost a shadow list, an invisible list. It's the "enough" list.

I am thankful for enough:

  • Food for me and my family to eat
  • Adequate shelter, clothing, healthcare
  • Money to pay the bills
  • Time to be involved in my children's lives
  • Respectful treatment from the powers that be in our society

There are so many people in our community (and the world) who long for just this, just enough. Not a free ride, not excessive luxury, just "enough".

We love to watch videos of newly adopted pets experiencing for the first time the joys of having a true home. It's thrilling to see them celebrate being clean, fed, cuddled, played with. For the first time in their lives they have "enough". And for them it is hitting the jackpot. We like to see that. It makes us feel good. It's a success story.

What about people?

So many human beings, our fellow creatures, are out there waiting for those same simple experiences. I'm thinking a lot about them today.


Special Thanksgiving Bonus Features:

The traditional thanksgiving post can be found here.

A blast from the past in honor of Lisa Rossi, who celebrates in Iowa now. We miss you, Lisa!




Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Lovely Story

There's a sweet, human-interesty sort of piece about PTACHC President Reg Avery in the Howard County Times this week. Complete with two family photos, it paints a picture of a family man devoted to community and education. I would certainly love to have an article like that written about me.

There's just one problem. It doesn't accurately describe the Reg Avery I know and worked with on the Oakland Mills Village Board. Not even remotely.

I'm not going to go into detail here, because it is not my intent to turn this post into a personal attack. But, more than once, Mr. Avery has been dogged by questions of conflict of interest. It is difficult to understand how he is able to wear so many hats in so many different capacities and remain true to each one.

Mr. Avery loves to run for things. He loves serving in leadership positions. Since I have known him he has run for County Council twice, served on the OM Village Board, served as CA Rep from Oakland Mills, served in PTA leadership positions, and there's much, much more. You may, as the article seems to suggest, interpret this as the purest of desires to serve the community.

My bigger concern about this article is that Mr. Avery is possibly positioning himself for a run for Board of Education. Or perhaps he is being encouraged to do so. As President of PTACHC he has publicly aligned himself with the Board of Education. It is my belief that PTACHC should provide an independent voice for parents. It simply cannot function that way if leadership serves at the pleasure of the BOE or Central Office.

Being President of PTACHC gives Mr. Avery another opportunity to be in the public eye and get his name and picture in the paper. If he is using it as a springboard to run for the Board of Education, well, that feels like a conflict of interest to me. The motto of the PTA is "Every child. One voice." I think it would be wise to see how true Mr. Avery is willing to be to the spirit of that organization.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Stepping outside the Village Green/Town² boundaries today. I'll be brief.

Once upon a time, when I was little, it was presidential election season. A story about George Wallace came on the evening news. "Ugh," said my mother. "He's a demagogue."

"What's a demagogue?" I asked.

"He just says what the people want to hear," she answered, in disgust.

At that very moment the reporter cut to interviews of people attending a Wallace event. "Why do you like George Wallace?" he asked.

"Because he says what I want to hear!"

We burst out laughing. She was the perfect illustration of what my mother was trying to teach me.

But demagoguery is no laughing matter. The campaign of Donald Trump for the Republican nomination is a case in point. 14,000 people showed up for an event yesterday, despite the fact that Trump is playing fast and loose with the truth. His ability to appeal to people's basest fears and anger and stir them up to the point where truth is no longer an essential is a frightening thing.

Yesterday CNN asked, "Does Donald Trump transcend the truth?"

What does that even mean? Merriam Webster defines the word "transcend":

to rise above or go beyond the normal limits of (something)

What the heck? How can one "rise above" or "go beyond the normal limits" of the truth?

This may in some twisted way appeal to people whose feelings are bigger than facts. And that is a scary thing. When emotions take over and there's no room for the truth, we are all in danger. Because any one of us, or group of us, could be on the receiving end of a negative force fueled by ignorance and anger.


Monday, November 23, 2015


Babies cry and wake you up in the night. Toddlers get into everything, and are prone to tantrums. Preschoolers have difficulty delaying gratification. When you have a young child you struggle to keep up with their changing behavior. You read up on child development. You talk to your pediatrician, your friends. You learn about what is developmentally appropriate for your child's age and stage.

But once that adorable baby is a teen, where does that focus on development go? For many people: out the window. Despite the fact that multiple scientific studies show the adolescent brain to be in a continued state of (wildly fluctuating) development, many adults make and enforce rules for them that assume they are mini-adults and should "just know" how to behave.

Even schools which once may have had a more supporting and guiding role towards teens are now forced by ill-conceived ed. reforms to focus on test scores and "raising the numbers." Well, you can try forcing teens into this emotional straight jacket all you want but the driving force of human nature will pop out when you least expect it.

Take clothing, for instance. Learning how to dress oneself is a completely age-appropriate thing to do. We as adults should understand that teens many go through multiple stages of "trying out" different looks as away of expressing themselves. Just as we lived through the endless crying, sleep deprivation, and temper tantrums of he younger child, we must live through this, too. It's not about morality. It's about development.

Yes, parents and responsibility adults set guidelines for safety. But we need to make sure that we are interacting with teens with an eye to fostering their development as whole human beings. Pulling a student out of class for a dress code infraction tells the student that clothing which conforms is more important than his/her education. Pulling girls out consistently more than boys says that 1) girls need more controlling and policing and 2) their need for education is not as important as it is for boys.
In closing, I'd like to share a piece of advice from a wise friend.

This is the week of parent/teacher conferences! You're all invited to state to each teacher something similar to, "If you think that the attire that my student wears in the classroom may be disruptive to their ability to learn, please contact me directly. Any conversation should be between you and me, while my student remains in the classroom."


If you try this, and I intend to, I'd love to know how that works out.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Let There Be Light

This is typically the time of year that I start stressing about the change of the season and the feeling of impending darkness. And I write about it. On this date in 2008:

Cursing the darkness. Note to self: buy candles tomorrow.

And that is, of course, related in my mind to one of the best Peanuts strips of all time.

I've been thinking a lot about light and darkness lately. Kicked off perhaps by the time change, the change in seasons, even the announcement of the cancellation of this year's Symphony of Lights. Human beings are truly attuned to the light; we lean towards it. (Plants, too, but that's another blog post.) Loss of light can bring about physiological and emotional changes in us.

Last night I was driving around in the Clarksville/Highland area after dark, taking my daughter to a party. Wow, it was dark out there. It was, as my mother used to say, like driving around on the inside of a pillow case. "What do these people have against quality street lights?" I thought to myself.

There's a tradeoff, of course. Where I live in Columbia it is well lit, on the main streets, anyway. But when we look up at the sky we can seldom see the stars. They are obscured by light pollution. I'm guessing that out where Blogger AnnieRie lives they get better views. Interesting. It's right there in the title of her blog: AnnieRie Unplugged . What happens when you pull out the plug on unnecessary artificial illumination?

You can see another kind of light show, I guess.

As for me, I love my lights: sunlight, long daylit afternoons into early evening. Candle light. Christmas lights. And, most definitely: street lights. When it's just me and my GPS in unknown territory, any light along the way improves my journey. Whether I'm wandering in Clarksville or Baltimore City, any shining beacon is cause for rejoicing.

Maybe someday I'll learn how to navigate by the stars. But probably not while I'm driving.


Saturday, November 21, 2015


Just had a lol moment. You know, "Laugh Out Loud" in response to something on the Internet. Except, of course, I didn't really laugh out loud. Well, my brain did. At the bottom of an advert email from a Big Lots was an array of social media icons with the exhortation, "Join the Conversation!"

What kind of conversations are people having about Big Lots? What kind of conversations are people having with Big Lots? Okay, I'll bite. I took a look on Twitter. The Big Lots account pushes out promotions....okay, here's a response to a compliment...there's a response to a complaint...Well, better than some. But all thanks tweets are just about identical, and same with responses to complaints.

Do people actually talk about Big Lots on Twitter? Amazingly enough, they do. Some of my favorites:

@WILDcnservativE: U kno u getting old when u sign up for a big lots card

@alowee13: The big lots Black Friday commercial is the most annoying commercial in the world

@nurenbergallie: My mom and I just go to big lots and Home Depot for fun now what is wrong with us

@RobbLarry: Big Lots commercials are just ideas that didn't fly with other retailers

@wickedwych: The big lots Christmas commercials are the best Christmas commercials

@isabellalutley: every night I get into bed and my last thought is always "why am I not cool enough to hang out in the big lots parking lot"

So maybe this isn't the kind of conversation Big Lots had in mind. But any mention is money in the bank for your brand, right?


@Old_Town_Saloon: Just to clear the air there was NOT a stabbing at Old Town, the stabbing was in front of Big Lots. So come out a party tonight!!

Really good social media conversation is actually two-way, you know: conversation. I think some people doing "social media engagement" for commercial brands just don't get it. Customers who turn to Twitter to resolve a problem or ask a question will soon tire of preprogrammed accounts that exist only to push out content, for instance.

Truth be told, the best conversations I've had on Twitter have been about teaching, the arts, affordable housing, discussing articles about place-making and community building. Those are the conversations that happen organically, not driven by cute themed brand "chats" with prizes awarded, or tweets about how product X will improve my holiday season.

Conversation is good. I like it. I guess for a better understanding of how brands can employ it without looking ridiculous I should do some more research. Or ask ScottE.


Friday, November 20, 2015


Last night this blog took home the Mobbies award for Most Influential Blog or Account. It was also Runner-Up in the category of Best Suburban Blog. I had prepared a speech, in case one would be necessary, but when The Moment came the speech felt too long and I went with an abbreviated version.

Here's the whole thing:

Wow. Thanks to the Mobbies for the awesome party, and for this award, which I'd like to accept in memory of the late, and wonderful, Howard County blogger Dennis Lane. His amazing body of work at Tales of Two Cities blog is what inspires me and pushes me forward every morning when I get up to write.

Now, we all know that the real truth about the Mobbies is that it's not really about the bloggers. It's about the energy in the communities around the blogs. Nobody takes home a Mobbie unless there are those enthusiastic readers who are willing to click, and click, and click again--because they're invested in the outcome. They care who wins.

So that means that this award is really not my award, but their award. But I'm more than happy to pick it up on their behalf, and share the bragging rights.

Thanks again to the Mobbies, especially for opening the doors to writers outside of Baltimore. And a special thanks to members of the Howard County blogging community. We may be weird, we're definitely feisty, and above all, we love what we do.

So congratulations on your award. And thanks for reading.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Dangerous Precedent

Everyone knows I'm a big fan of the Downtown Plan. I love the creative use of the Rouse Building for Whole Foods. I'm excited about Merriweather Park and the Chyrsalis. I like the feel of the reconfigured "Lifestyle Plaza" at the Mall. No one can accuse me of being a stick-in-the-mud.

But yesterday I came up against something that I just can't ignore. I never dreamed that moving forward with the New Amercian City could mean--this.

No, not public art. I'm all for that. Can't you see? Doesn't it just cry out to you? Don't you just want to scream?


Parallel parking. There are multiple parallel parking spaces in front of the shops at the Metropolitan. How can they do this? No one in Columbia knows how to parallel park. They've just taken it off of the drivers exam, for heaven's sake. Granted, there's only a handful of spaces, but somebody needs to take a stand now before this gets out of hand.


What will be next? People reading newspapers on park benches? Groups of urban-looking types at bus stops? Pedestrians?


We've got to nip this in the bud, Columbia. Five little parking spaces, so slyly inserted into our wholesome community, could just be the start. The start of the end of everything we believe in.



Yesterday morning, shortly after nine am, I slipped into a parking place in front of the Metropolitan. I got my hair cut at Floyd's and then walked the few steps down the street to get coffee at the Corner Bakery Café.

It was awesome.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Your Child: Data Generator

I was more than a little surprised to read in the Superintendent's blog that the school system is adding a new test to the seemingly endless barrage of testing our children endure. More testing? Seriously? Does anyone think that's a good idea?

I've been encouraged in recent months by a continuing movement in the state of Maryland pushing back against excessive testing. Parents and teachers are generally united on this front, and finally their voices are being heard. I found this statement from Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot to be to the point:

Comptroller Franchot remains adamantly opposed to the state’s obsession with standardized tests, which detract from teachers’ ability to effectively teach and students’ ability to actually learn.

Does this seem like a really good time to be crowing about additional, non-mandated testing?

From the Superintendent's blog:

I was pleased when the Global Learning Network, a professional learning community of educators and district leaders, selected HCPSS to feature in its case study videos. We’re highlighted as one of the first school systems in the country to participate in the OECD Test for Schools, an international benchmark aligned to the PISA test. Last year, all HCPSS high schools participated in this assessment, and the results have proven valuable in improving our instructional program.

The OECD test is the first real chance for us to compare our students’ performance against that of PISA-ranked nations, so we can better understand how to prepare our students to be global citizens. The OECD test doesn’t just measure what students know, but how well they can apply their knowledge to solve problems and the extent they are willing to take ownership of their own learning. This gives us a more complete picture of how we can enhance our instruction and will ultimately lead to better success for all our benchmarks of college and career readiness.

I don't think everyone took this test, so I am guessing that a certain (statistically relevant) number of students are selected at random and required to complete this test. I haven't heard any parents talking about this, but I don't think the students will see the results, nor will their parents. So that means the entire experience provides no benefit to the individual test-taker whatsoever.

"It provides us with so much good data!" is the overall explanation, from what I can see.

Your child. You love them, care for them, support them, sneak into their room when they are asleep and look at their angelic faces and think, "what a darling little data generator!"

Heartwarming, isn't it?

  • On December 1st there will be a meeting about State Bills directly related to Howard County Education--one about the Board of Education makeup, one about transparency.
  • On December 8th there will be a Town Hall meeting for citizens to be able to express their feelings about what is going on with the school system.
  • Students at Glenwood Middle continue to suffer an array of what appear to be mold-related health issues, and at least one student has been transferred out due to health reasons.
  • A member of the Board of Education is making nasty personal comments about a County Council member on Facebook.

And the school system is excited about more testing?

Color me confused. And please don't choose my child for more testing.







Tuesday, November 17, 2015

When Being Late is a Good Thing

This article by Lisa Philip was all over social media yesterday, carrying the news that Council member Jon Weinstein has spearheaded an initiative to provide late buses so all students can participate in after-school activities. My first reaction was: wait, we don't already have late buses?

I went to high school in Stamford, Connecticut and we had late buses. In fact they ran twice daily: a four thirty bus and a five thirty bus. And their were two routes for our school, a north route and a south route. We just took that for granted. You could stay after school to work with a teacher, do research in the Media Center, play sports or attend a theater rehearsal.

But the Stamford, Connecticut school district had exactly three high schools at that time. And while they did provide late buses, they didn't provide food service in any of the schools in the system. They must have at some point because all the schools were set up to have it, but it was considered no longer affordable. We had vending machines to supplement our brown bag lunches. I remember ice cream sandwiches fondly, and yes, they did sometimes stand in for an actual lunch.

So I don't want to jump on Howard County for not already having late buses, because it's a very large system, and if I had to choose between late buses and kids eating, I'd definitely go with the latter. On the other hand, at a time when administrative positions and salaries at Central Office are ballooning and actual student services in schools are being reduced, it does seem odd that Mr. Weinstein had to reach out to community businesses to fund a project which is essentially a student service.

Good for them, and Mr. Weinstein, for seeing the need and stepping up to respond to it. Wouldn't it be great if the school system did that sort of thing?




Monday, November 16, 2015

Senior Moment

Although it has been a while now since I entered the world of "50+", I generally have little time for people whose focus is procuring senior benefits. My experience in Columbia, and especially in Oakland Mills, has been with people who believe that age-based discounts are theirs by right and more important than need-based discounts. When I was running for CA Rep in Oakland Mills one of these folks asked me in a public forum, "do you have a senior agenda?"

No, I said. I have a human agenda, because we are all in this together. (I lost.)

The clamorings of a certain generation remind me very much of Sally in "A Charlie Brown Christmas Special." When challenged by her brother on the selfishness of her Christmas list she retorts/whines, "All I want is what's coming to me. All I want is my fair share."

Well today I am pausing to have a senior moment thanks to Amanda Yeager who brought my attention to this article in the Wall Street Journal.

To lure baby boomers senior centers try rebranding

It's interesting. The "new" old people, the Baby Boomer generation, doesn't like words that refer to being old, infirm, needing medical treatment. The article mentions the transition here in Howard County from "Senior Centers" to the new name, "50+". It's a widespread trend to appeal to Boomers with jazzier names and updated activities.

There's just one problem. The Senior Citizens who were there already don't necessarily like the change. This article, Words Matter, talks not just about names changes but also about the very significant range in ages for Boomers. The needs and wants of the oldest may not necessarily jibe with those of the youngest.

So what happens when some of our Columbia Pioneer friends come for Zumba and Zentangle at the 50+ Center and get pushback from the senior citizens who want to play cards with their friends and take the van to the show together? What happens when somebody says to them, "we were here first and we don't want change?"

I can't even put into words what a delicious prospect I find this to be.





Sunday, November 15, 2015

Balloons and Beliefs

My husband and I were the traditional sort, perhaps you might say "retro", in that we did not want to know the sex of our baby before its birth. We wanted to be be surprised. Because of this, the friend throwing the baby shower bought two celebratory balloons for the party: one said "It's a Boy!" And one said "It's a Girl!" She wanted to have her bases covered. We brought them home after the party where they hung around the house together like guests who didn't know when to take their leave.

About a week later Margo was born. During the intervening time we continued to discuss baby names. We always knew that if it were a girl, she'd be named after Great Auntie Margaret in Ireland. But we absolutely could not agree on a boy's name. How amazing that she turned out to be a girl. We had the name all ready.

But our amazement had only just begun. When we arrived home from the hospital we discovered the "It's a Boy!" balloon lying on the floor, while the "It's a Girl!" balloon still floated high in the air, triumphant. Coincidence? Most likely. But it quickly became a part of the magical lore of our daughter's birth. A family story to be shared again and again.

And so today is her birthday. Standing in the checkout line at the Food Lion, I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head to the right to see a star shaped Mylar balloon rising up off the floor, all by itself. On the balloon, the words, "It's a Girl!"

Coincidence? I think not. Humor me.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday Thoughts in an Unthinkable World

I feel that I must say something about what has happened in Paris and yet I am numb. I am overwhelmed by the violence. I see friends around me on social media post support for France and somehow I shrink from doing so. I squirm at the thought that it's another tragedy, another massacre. We bring out the same quotes, we add in situation-appropriate photographs and we post. Again. And again.

Yes, I grieve for the suffering. And I support the people of France. Yet somehow I feel a sense of horror at the recurrent nature of these events and I feel embarrassed to say anything. We've had so many in the era of social media that we have developed a protocol for socially acceptable condolences and responses. How absolutely sick is that?

When will we ever create a protocol that lets us work for peace?


Before I go, two things: this week brought a return post from Candace Dodson Reed over at Is This Thing On? Candace is smart, thoughtful, and she doesn't waste words. She's the real deal, and definitely a voice I'd like to be hearing more from. Secondly, this post by Bill Woodcock at The 53. It's a great look at discontent, self-examination, and the current state of the community blogging scene.

And finally, I was reminded by Ilana Bittner that yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the first taping of local podcast, And Then There's That. I think you can still listen. (There are 88 episodes!) A heartfelt HoCo Holler to all the folks at HoCoMoJo who worked on bringing that podcast to our community, with a special nod to the man himself.







Friday, November 13, 2015

Democracy in Action

This is going to be brief because I sliced up my right index finger this morning opening a tin of corned beef and, for heaven's sake, that's my primary typing finger.


We often feel that we have something to say to the powers that be but nobody asks us. "Well, I would have said something, but nobody asked me." The big news in Howard County is that someone is asking, and you need to seize your chance to be heard.


1. Join in and participate in one of HCEA/PATH 's Listening Sessions and share your opinions on Howard County Schools. These meetings are short (one hour only), to the point (3 questions for discussion),and civil (no one will jump on you if they disagree).


2. December 1st at 7:30 pm.

The Howard County Delegation of the Maryland General Assembly, chaired by Delegate Shane Pendergrass and Senator Guy Guzzone, will hear testimony from the public on drafted local bills. (No testimony on stateside issues will be permitted as a second hearing devoted to them will be scheduled.)

Any individual may speak for up to 3 minutes as long as they are signed up. Signup will begin at 6.45pm in the Bannekar room and will close at 7.20pm. Advance sign up is not available. The delegation encourages you to bring written copies of your testimony (preferably 15) to distribute to us, though it is not a requirement to speak. The hearing is scheduled as follows:

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015 - 7:30 p.m.Banneker Room, George Howard Building3430 Courthouse Drive, Ellicott City, MD

The 2016 legislative session will begin on January 13, 2016

TWO BILLS DIRECTLY RELATED TO HOWARD COUNTY EDUCATION:Howard County Public School System - Access to Public Information Ho. Co. 9-16By: Delegate Miller

  • FOR the purpose of requiring a certain notice provided by the custodian of a public record for the Howard County Public School System be made in writing under penalty of perjury; requiring the custodian to provide written notice to an applicant regarding the right to file a certain complaint with the State Public Information Act Compliance Board; requiring the custodian, under certain circumstances, to petition the Public Access Ombudsman concerning a request to inspect a public record; providing that the custodian may deny inspection of an intra-agency letter or memorandum only after a declaration by a court under certain circumstances; and generally relating to the Howard County Public School System and access to public information.

Howard County Board of Education - Elected School Board Ho. Co. 12-16By: Delegate Atterbeary

  • FOR the purpose of requiring that, beginning with a certain election, certain members of the Howard County Board of Education be elected by districts and certain members be elected at large; providing that a member elected to the county board from a certain geographic area but whose district boundaries are subsequently altered may remain as a member of the county board for a certain period; providing that in making an appointment to fill a vacancy on the county board the County Executive of Howard County shall endeavor to ensure that the county board reflects certain characteristics of the county population; providing for the termination of the terms of certain members of the county board; providing for the application of this Act; providing for a delayed effective date; and generally relating to the election of the members of the Howard County Board of Education

3. December 8 at 7pm.

The Rouse Community Foundation Building Room 400.

Details to Follow.

There will be a Town Hall Meeting for Citizens to meet with some of their State Delegation to let them know how they feel about what's going on with the school system. I do not know if other topics will also be discussed.

I believe this is the result of efforts by Warren Miller, Delegate for District 9A and Frank Turner, Delegate for District 13 .

Both Sides of the political aisle are rallying to help the citizens of Howard County have their voices heard.


Forgive the wholesale copying and pasting but I'm one finger short and I want to get this information out. I participated in one of the Listening Sessions on Sunday. When it was over, one UUCC member stood up and said, "This is democracy in action."

I'm asking you to share this information and these dates widely. Please make every effort to participate and show that stakeholders care about our school system and deserve to have their voices heard.


People don't come around asking for your opinion every day. Let's show them democracy in action.



Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Lesson in Fear

So, yesterday I was going through a pile of stuff that had inexplicably been 'stashed and dashed' and forgotten. And I came across this:


Do we teach human sexuality in a healthy way in Howard County? Well, what do you think about this work packet from a Middle School Health unit?

That is the question I posed to my friends on Facebook yesterday after taking one look at this ghastly choice of clip-art.

Wait? What?? Why are they scared? What is even happening here?

omg. not healthy

So this pamphlet is going to say that sex is terrifying?

That's what one would think from the cover. Inside is about five deathly dull worksheets with vocabulary words covering the male and female reproductive systems.

Why is the title shouted?


Alternate titles, "We Think Sex is AWFUL!" "You Should Really, Really, Really Freak Out About Sex! We Are!" Also, "Sex Is DEFINITELY Something to Be Ashamed Of."

None of the participants in this conversation felt that this was intentionally harmful. We discussed whether it was "a lame attempt at humor." We acknowledged it might be a clumsy nod to what the teacher assumed the middle schoolers felt about the topic. One participant summed it up best:

I try not to overreact to stupid, but probably not meant to be harmful, mistakes. This really bothers me, though.

You would think that these particular sorts of units would be very carefully crafted and thought-out to be used across the system. You would think that the emphasis would be on presenting a mature, healthy, emotionally-grounded and developmentally appropriate approach. This doesn't come across that way. This can't be how a world-class school system deals with education in human sexuality. And yet, clearly, it is.

If this is how we teach human sexuality in Howard County, it's no wonder that the Board of Ed had a cosmic freak-out over the word "condom".

Just in case this conversation has disturbed you, I offer this encouraging message printed on the last page of every booklet:

What more can I say?


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bits and Bobs

A few local happenings:

Last night in the Village of Long Reach, the County presented the draft of the Long Reach Village Center Revitalization Plan. If you were there, how do you feel about it? I'm especially curious now that Oakland Mills will be working with the County to study possibilities for our Village Center.

PATH (People Acting Together in Howard) and HCEA (Howard County Educator's Association) have kicked off a Community Listening Campaign to engage young people, parents, community members, and educators in a conversation centered around what kind of challenges our schools are facing and what kind of schools our community deserves. Their goal is to meet with 2000 people all over the County over the next three months.

A new restaurant has opened in the Metropolitan: the Corner Bakery Café. Initial feedback I'm getting is good. Have you been yet? What did you think?

Tickets are now on sale for this year's Concert for Kids at Oakland Mills High School. I went last year and it was fabulous. If you are feeling a little blue about Symphony of Lights taking a year off, add this into your holiday celebration instead. They're even adding a Family Matinée performance this year which offers a slightly shortened program tailored to meet the needs of younger children. And it all benefits the WBAL Radio Kids Campaign.

One happening from farther afield: they're gearing up for the holiday season at Longwood Gardens. I have never been, but this year I am making it a top priority. My friend Justin, the one who has made an amazing recovery since his heart transplant, will be back at the organ console doing something he has missed dearly: leading the Christmas Carol sing-alongs.

Just thinking about that makes me smile.




Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Read All About It!

There's an article by Lisa Philip in the Howard County Times today about the recent dispute at the Board of Education. I wrote about that here. Ms. Philip's article is definitely worth your time. It is thorough and well laid-out, and even includes some input from comments on social media.

It is also a reminder how important a healthy news organization is in Howard County.

I truly believe that a free and independent press is crucial to any democracy. But, when it comes down to it, we have to find a way for that to be economically feasible. It wasn't until rather recently that I moved from thinking, "I can't afford that" to "I can't afford not to subscribe". For a long time my attitude was unconsciously based on a notion that the newspaper would keep on existing whether I paid money for it or not.

Just assuming the news will be there, rather like water running out of the tap, is a reckless assumption these days. And since I believe in the importance of the press as a public good, then I have a responsibility to support it. Should our local newspaper have fundraising drives like NPR? Would you donate to get the tote-bag?

Would a community band together to support a local newspaper? I'd like to believe that we would.



Monday, November 9, 2015

The Visit

First of all, an observation. Through the years I have written three posts about Columbia's Villages. None of them generated a single comment. Not one. It's just not a topic people feel compelled to talk about. That may be because they like things fine just the way they are, or it may be that the whole matter is irrelevant to them. (Or perhaps they don't even live in Columbia. There is that.)

My guess is that the group of people for whom the village concept is vitally important is shrinking. I don't believe that the relevance of Village living is regenerating itself. I would be more excited about the future of the Village way of life if leadership and participation were truly open to all, and not just people who say they got here first.

Still, I do have a little news. From Owen Brown. I visited the Owen Brown Interfaith Center yesterday to attend a service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia. My daughter attends the youth group there and on the second Sundays they are invited to come to church, with a meal and discussion afterwards. Since I heard the topic of the service was to be education, I tagged along.

You may already know that the OBIC is under construction, or rather reconstruction, to add a rather impressive addition to their space. The building is home to the UUCC, at least one other religious congregation, the Cradlerock Children's Center, and hosts a variety of community group meetings throughout the week.

We read all the time about how church is dead, or at least dying. Not at the service I attended. I could see why enlarging the building is so crucial. The Unitarian-Universalists are bursting at the seams. This is a vibrant, welcoming bunch of folks. I was greeted warmly. Even the pastor came over to introduce herself before the service.

By all the measures of church life--two well-attended weekly services, active Sunday school and youth programs, charitable outreach, a variety of activities and events throughout the year--UUCC is lively and strong. I once joked with a priest that a church's membership would never grown any larger than the room used for coffee hour. The one at OBIC is large but the UU's easily fill it and could use more room. That's a pretty amazing thing.

So the news from Owen Brown today is that the Interfaith Center is expanding, the UUCC is succeeding, and it's a place where the values of the People Tree are right at home. That's pretty good news to start your week.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

What's Happening in Your Village?

It has been a while since I have talked about the villagey-ness of Columbia. While I write primarily from an Oakland Mills perspective, I do wish there were other folks out there writing about their own village experiences. If you live in Columbia, how much do you identify with your village designation? Does it matter to you? Is it relevant?

For those who don't live in Columbia, or have trouble keeping them all straight:

Have you been to every village? Do you have friends in every village? Have you shopped in every village center? (For some reason, I have spent the least amount of time in Dorsey's Search.)
Some people feel it's important to patronize only those shops in their "home" village center. Others, looking for more variety, bypass the Village Center experience altogether. The stores they really want to go to aren't in village centers, and don't want to be.
The listing above is taken from The Columbia Association web site, where I also found a nifty little PDF which explains what your Village Community Association does, what CA does, and what Howard County does. I don't know how long it has been there, but I can say from personal experience that many Columbia residents are in a state of perpetual confusion about who does what.
So here's a call for news: if you live in any of the Columbia Villages, will you report in the comments about what's happening in your neck of the woods? And if you have no idea, tell me that, too.
There are a lot of exciting things going on in Downtown Columbia. But, if we are also to retain the spirit of ten Villages making up one New American City, how do we keep that alive? And, do we need to?


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Two Kinds of Shopping

Happy Saturday. I'm still adjusting to a lack of light. Probably time to break out the "happy light" for the season.

I highly recommend the craft fair at Oakland Mills High School for your shopping pleasure today.


27th Annual Oakland Mills HS Craft Fair

Saturday, Nov. 7th, 2015 10am-3pm

9410 Kilimanjaro Road Columbia, MD


Oh, and one more thing. A delicious little piece of trivia for you: Armstrong Williams, the syndicated columnist who wrote the indefensible smear piece about HCEA and the Ulman administration, do you remember him? I wrote about him here. I am still perplexed as to what possible connection Mr. Williams could have with local Howard County politics. His piece, which was written while labor negotiations were rather bogged down, was clearly written with an eye to influence public opinion. And by that I mean, it was written to make the teachers, the teachers union, and the (former) County Executive look bad.

Do you know what Mr. Armstrong is doing now? He's the Business Manager for the Ben Carson campaign.

You just can't make these things up. I sure wish I knew who shopped that Howard County story to him in July of 2014. Don't you?


Friday, November 6, 2015

Lesson Learned?

Remember this? From Tuesday, October 20th:

  • Bill proposes to elect Howard school board members by district (Amanda Yeager and Lisa Philip)
  • Howard delegate proposes legislative remedy to school system transparency complaints (Amanda Yeager)
  • I have been wondering if there would be any response to these two initiatives from the school system. From what I hear, I think last night we may have had one. Board of Education member Cindy Vaillancourt shared this information on Facebook this morning:

    IN SEARCH OF PUBLIC FEEDBACK----So... at the Thursday night BOE meeting, there was a proposal to prohibit individual board of education members from testifying, as individual citizens, on any proposed legislation unless it is testimony in support of the Board's stated position. BTW, the "Board Handbook" talks about Board Members retaining their rights to testify, or speak, in opposition to the position of the majority as long as they are clear that they are speaking as individuals.

    In a week when Frank Eastham spoke to PTACHC members about "lesson learned" when it comes to transparency, this strikes me as evidence that the lesson is far from learned. Whether on issues of mold, implementation of new software, rollout of the Model School initiative, the response to those who wish to question or disagree has been remarkably similar: silence the dissent

    Ms. Vaillancourt closes by asking:


    How does this community feel about the current majority on the Board of Education trying to prohibit the right of individual Board Members to speak publicly, as individual citizens, to their elected representatives about pending legislation on which they disagree with the official position of a majority of other Board Members?

    In my opinion, since the Board's own handbook allows individual members to retain their rights to express individual opinions, there must be a reason for that. A person or persons thought that through. That statement is not there by accident. Are we living in such dangerous times that this right must be rescinded? Would this change serve the people of Howard County?

    What do you think?





    Thursday, November 5, 2015

    So What?

    I'm having a "so what?" kind of morning. Maybe it's because of the time change and the overwhelming feeling that the light is receding. Or maybe it's the knowledge that my letter to the county council and county executive about Oakland Mills Village Board leadership was so clearly unsuccessful. Then there's the ongoing mold issues at Glenwood Middle that are still making some students and staff very sick. Or the long talk I had with my daughter last night about how dreary the "high school life" is turning out to be.

    Just a little too much unpleasantness in a few too many areas.

    A high point: yesterday's post by Tom Coale on HoCoRising. Entitled "364 Days", it looks back on the last year since the election with a wise and beautiful sense of perspective. As someone who ran for office and lost, I identify strongly with the sentiments he expresses. Worth the read. (And a special first birthday shout out to the Darling of Dorsey's Search.)

    "So what?" is a defense against being let down or disappointed. If you don't care you can't get hurt. It's also quite paralyzing. If you don't care, then what's the point? In the Peanuts comic strip Linus used to go to an empty lot and throw rocks which he was angry or frustrated. He gave each rock a purpose:

    • "This is for the kid who pushed me in line."
    • "This is for the teacher who assigned a book report over the winter vacation."
    • This is for the big kid who laughed at my blanket."

    Maybe I need to go throw some rocks.

    In the meantime, this is some mood music for the day.



    Wednesday, November 4, 2015

    Online Civility Revisited

    I'm running this post from 2012 again today because tomorrow I'm going to be addressing the workshop I attended at Miller Branch Library about Civility and online harassment. It's interesting for me to look back on my thoughts and see what was concerning me the most.


    What are your concerns about online harassment? How do you think we can best foster a positive online environment, a civil community within social media?


    Be Afraid. Or, At Least Feel Suppressed (October 18, 2012)

    I don't have a Choose Civility bumper sticker on my car. I used to, but I took it off.

    Why? If you must know, I took it off because I kept reading and hearing snarky comments about how it's the Choose Civility cars that cut you off, won't let you in, take your parking place and so on. And I know that I am not a perfect driver. I'm not a selfish driver, but every so often I might be stupid. So I took the bumper sticker off because I didn't want to make the Choose Civility movement look bad.

    There you have it--Self Suppression. Negative, cynical comments found a way to change my enthusiasm into fearfulness. Brilliant marketing plan. "You want people to be kind and respectful? Well, let me make you feel bad about yourself first!"

    People like me are the ones who were crushed when the teacher lectured the whole class about bad behavior. We take it to heart. It didn't matter how many times I was consoled with--"She wasn't really talking to you." It takes a certain kind of person to care that much about other people's feelings and actions. Perhaps just the sort of person that, as an adult, makes the case for civility.

    Am I worried that rude, loud, negative citizens feel suppressed by requests for civility? I guess I need to know more about what they perceive as an unfavorable consequence of being civil. The truth is, I worry much more that the gentler, thoughtful, listening members of our community are the ones who are suppressed by uncivil behavior.

    There is room to disagree. But, if you feel that you have the evidence to prove that someone is a horse's ass, you don't need to make a horse's ass of yourself in order to prove your point. And that is precisely what you do when you demonize those who disagree with you.

    I have great admiration for those in the HoCoBlogs community who understand those boundaries, and respect them.